Derby Baths Blackpool was practically a legend in its own right. For 50 years the Olympic sized swimming pool stood at the left side of what’s now the Grand – previously the Hilton Hotel.
Generations of people, from far and wide, visited to swim in the huge pool before its demolition in March 1990.
Today, the site of Derby Baths is a grassy field (above) on a corner of Blackpool north promenade, between Warley Road and Dickson Road. We went to explore the popular leisure facilities past…
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The Heyday of Derby Baths Blackpool
It opened on 21 July 1939 with a mannequin and bathing parade to celebrate. 1200 swimmers descended on it for opening day. That’s a lot of people – even for an Olympic sized pool!
Did you know? When it was built, Derby Baths Blackpool was the only one in Britain with full Olympic facilities?
At the time of the opening, the modern, red brick hotel of today didn’t exist. Instead, the plot of land between Warley Road and Derby Road was laid out as the Pembroke National Gardens.
In September 1937 work began on demolishing terraced houses on the northern side of Derby Road – after which the baths were named. The entrance to this fine building was at Warley Road.
The typically art deco style building was designed by Borough Architect John Charles Robinson. He was also responsible for a lot of the Blackpool we still see around us today: the open air baths at South Shore, the cliff lift tower, the colonnades and shelters, Stanley Park cafe, Talbot Road bus station and many, many others.
Did you know? During World War II RAF airmen were marched to Derby Baths or the Lido once a week for a shower and/or a naked swim?
Trials and TV
Many famous competitions took place within its walls. From 1953 the Amateur Swimming Association Centralised Championships were held here, along with Water Polo and Synchronised Swimming Championships.
There were national and international swimming and diving events and trials for the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, European Games and many more.
Many of them were televised – there was even a BBC broadcasting station in the basement.
The main pool room had seats for 1800 spectators.
Swimming in Sea Water
The main pool was an impressive 165 feet long x 55 feet wide, with a depth ranging between 3′ and 16′. It’s capacity was 485,000 gallons!
A 30 foot-square learner pool was on the sub-ground floor, for anyone who found the huge main pool a little too daunting!
Bathers originally swam in filtered and warmed sea water. Some years later, the water was drawn from the mains supply.
Slipper baths and showers, Turkish baths, vapour rooms, a hairdressing room, spectators cafe, huge sun lounge and gymnasium completed the facilities.
A Very Delayed Official Opening!
May 1940 was the date planned for the opening of Derby Baths Blackpool, with a ceremony conducted by Lord Derby. However, the small matter of World War II put paid to that idea.
It wasn’t until much later, until 1965 and completion of the saunas, that the ‘official opening’ finally took place.The Earl of Derby, grandson of Lord Derby, conducted the opening.
Modern Day Derby Baths Blackpool
In 1983, themed water slides arrived at Derby Baths with the ‘Splashland’ attraction. There were indoor and outdoor water chutes – the indoor one was the first in Britain.
By 1986 it was known as Derby Pool and advertised as a ‘watery wonderland’ featuring ‘eerie caves, spooky castles and dragons’.
Sadly, the icon to swimming wasn’t to last much longer, closing to the public in 1987. It remained open to schools for another year, finally closing on 16 July 1988.
And the End…
In March 1990 the bulldozers moved in to demolish it – the official reason being concrete cancer.
(Concrete cancer isn’t as hazardous to health as it sounds. Concrete cancer happens when the steel reinforcing within it begins to rust. The rusty steel expands, displacing the concrete around it, causing it to become brittle and crack more – speeding up the process.)
Thanks to John who sent us these photos of the baths during demolition.
Did you know? Rumour had it that a Tunisian businessman offered to swap 5 camels for the 1700 plastic seats!
MANY THANKS to Nick Moore and his fascinating History of Blackpool for historical information used in this article. You can read it in full here.
Your Memories of Derby Baths
John Jackson got in touch with his story. He says “Back in the 1960s, when I was 16 years of age (I’m now 75 years old) I spent a couple of years with the Blackpool volunteer lifeguards. We trained in the sea and then went into the baths for further stamina training sessions. From a standing start, I could swim underwater for about three quarters of a length.
“I believe we had free access to the baths. Looking towards the sea, from the baths where the overhanging walkways are, the Lifeguard Club was situated underneath the overhang walkway. I’m not sure, exactly, in relation to the baths, where the club house was. But walking north past the North Pier and the cenotaph, there were public toilets and then the club house.
“One of my fond memories were the wonderful evenings watching the sun go down. And, of course, the bracing clear air.”
Ian Craven remembers swimming there too. He added “There was a Derby Road Discount Store where you could buy swimming trunks for men and costumes for the ladies. They sold large bath towels and almost everything you need for a swim. It was a very handy store, just across from the new Co-op.”
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8 thoughts on “Remember Derby Baths Blackpool?”
Met an old gentleman at Blackpool Vic,gave him and his carer a lift back to Fleetwood.On the way he told me his father’s building company had built Derby baths.His surname was Joyce.Lots of facts here but cannot find name of builders.Bill Price.
So much local history and probably a lot of it forgotten. We do our best to try and capture some of it!
I competed in the National Championships in 1960 and 1961. I was 14 and 15 yrs old. It was my first and best experience of what I considered to be ‘top level’ swimming. I remember especially seeing and meeting some of the 1960 Olympic swimmers – they were my heroes. I’ve never forgotten it. I was Pam Robinson then and my only claim to fame was that I was 3rd in the County Championships (I lived in Newcastle then and swam for Northumberland County). Those were the days. I’m now 75!!
Remember as a kid fascinated with watching a dude run off the top board flat face down then tucked himself in last minute. Top board whistle blew all look up priceless
I swam at the baths in the Nationals on a few occasions. It was a stunning looking building. The swimming was indeed televised by the BBC and I appeared, having been given our instructions on facing the camera. It was wonderful, partly because participating swimmers were accommodated, without our parents in the off season Pontins, which was closed to the public at this time. The event was sponsored by Fox’s (of glacier mint fame) and during competition times and now very inappropriate, but at that time wonderful, a real stuffed Polar bear was parked outside the pool in a display case. Also Swimmers could also fill their bags with Fox’s glacier mints and fruit sweets. It was a magnificent experience all round. Even though the end of the 55 yard pool seemed to take a long time to come after the much shorter training pools. Seeing Blackpool illuminations on the way back to Pontins was the icing on the cake. Life couldn’t get much better as a 12 year old swimmer from Hull. I loved it and still talk about the Darby Street baths good old days with my now 94 year old dad.
I remember swimming there several times in the National age group swimming championships in the early 80s. Every time I go to Blackpool now I go and stand outside where the building was and reminis.
I remember Derby baths in the early 1960s, because I learned to swim there, in the learner pool in the basement. I still remember the names of the two ladies who were the swimming instructors there. I also remember swimming 50 widths of the main pool (48 widths was half a mile).
Yes! Derby baths such a lovely pool. Fabulous spa and health part too.
It should never have been demolished.
Especially the Olympic pool.